Most people don't think about colorectal cancer until their first colonoscopy rolls around. For people at average risk, regular screenings don't begin until age 45. That's because this cancer, which starts in the colon or rectum, is most frequently diagnosed in people over 65.
But in recent years, rates have nearly doubled in people under 50, which prompted experts to lower the screening age to 45. The higher rates are concerning, since early-onset colorectal cancer tends to be more advanced and has a higher risk of recurrence.
Why the recent increase in younger people? Research suggests it's partly caused by poor diet. In addition to other lifestyle factors, people are eating too many processed foods and not enough fruits and vegetables.
But there's good news. You can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer every time you sit down to eat — at any age.
Here's what experts recommend:
Skip the red meat
When possible, switch out beef for healthier proteins like salmon, beans or tofu. Meatless versions of comfort foods can still hit the spot. Try tofu sloppy Joes or three-bean chili.
Get more fiber
More than 90% of Americans don't eat enough fiber, which is found in fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Your plate should look like a rainbow: filled half with colorful veggies and fruit and a quarter with whole grains.
Tip: If possible, go for fresh fruits and veggies. Canned versions are lower in fiber.
Up your calcium intake
Low-fat milk and yogurt are common examples of calcium-rich foods. But dairy isn't the only source. You can also get calcium from fortified tofu, broccoli raab, sardines, fortified orange juice, canned salmon, kale and collard greens.
Hint: Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Check with your doctor to see if a supplement might help.
Look for folate-rich foods
You may not be familiar with its name, but folate can be found easily at the grocery store. Dark green vegetables, beans, peas, oranges and strawberries are packed with this nutrient, which is essential for reducing colorectal cancer risk.
Make healthy choices work for you
Changing how you eat might sound overwhelming. But you can focus on the foods you love, with a heathier twist. In fact, experts recommend incorporating your own preferences, culture and budget into a healthy diet. Here are some ideas:
- If you crave a burger, replace the beef with a veggie burger or salmon patty. Choose a whole-grain bun and pile on fresh veggies like sliced tomatoes, onions and spinach.
- Use spices and herbs to flavor food so it tastes like home.
- Choose frozen vegetables or fruit to eat healthy on a budget.